Budget'98: Good for Women

  • Deborah Morris
Associate Minister of Women's Affairs

Palmerston North Business & Professional Women

Presidents Dianne Glenn and Alice Viles.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you at your candlelighting dinner tonight.

Tonight there are three main themes I want to address: Budget '98 was a good Budget; it was good for working women, it was good for all women and it was good for business.

Overall, the Budget has been well received. For months groups such as the Business Roundtable have criticised the Government for not setting out a 'reform agenda'. For some reason, having been on a reform bender for 14 years is not enough. Some New Zealanders want more

Winston Peters labelled the Budget as firm, fair and visionary. I think he was right. Budget '98 further delivered aspects of both New Zealand First and National policy. It creates a balance that people wanted under MMP. There is some reform there and it is geared towards positive social outcomes, confidence within the business sector and the continued performance of New Zealand in the international arena.

I am proud to be part of a Government that has maintained a strong surplus yet increased spending, in real terms, in education and health; the two vital components of any successful and decent society.

There is a widespread myth that Government spending on health has been slashed in recent years. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is that New Zealand's health spending is the highest it has ever been at 7.8 per cent of GDP, or $6.2 billion.

Good for working women
We all know that without the vital contribution of women our society and economy would not be what they are. The role that women play in our economy is often undervalued. The value to the economy can not just be measured in terms of paid work.

To help try and shift that focus the Government is about to undertake a Time Use Survey. The survey will measure time use - the amount of time ordinary New Zealanders spend on different activities as they go about their lives. For example, how much time do we spend looking after children, or relatives who are elderly or sick? How much time is spent on voluntary community work? Or on recreation?

The survey will provide solid information on the patterns of people's daily lives, and will provide a clearer idea of how to shape services and policies for the better.

This information can be used to improve outcomes for women in business. For instance, if we knew how self employment fitted in with family obligations, such as looking after children, policies and services could be developed to take that into account.

The opportunities are infinite. Transport, health, education, and even tax. I'm sure that as entrepreneurs you can imagine the possibilities that stem from understanding how people manage their time.

When the survey is completed we will be able to quantify the value of unpaid work in GDP terms. I'm sure it will revolutionise the way we make policy.

In the meantime though, I think the Budget delivers good things for women. It will help women into work and help women who are already working.

The Coalition Government has improved access to child care.

For parents trying to get into work we have extended the child care subsidy to include out-of-school care.

We have also increased the amount of funding available for child care subsidies. This year an additional 11,000 to 15,000 people will be eligible to receive a child care subsidy.

This is an important move. I know a mum of three who is on the DPB. She used to be in business herself but has been busy looking after her children in recent years. She now wants to go to teachers training college, but was concerned that she couldn't because of child care costs.

Now, because of greater access to out-of-school care and an increase in child care subsidies the opportunities will be all hers. She would make a great teacher.

If any of you are solo mums, I'm sure you have been worried about work and taking time-off when your kids have been sick. Many solo mums run very tight budgets and would find it really tough to take time off work if they had no sick leave. From now on, solo parents with no sick leave in the first six months of full-time work will be eligible for financial help if they or their children are sick.

One policy that has attracted a lot of attention is the Employment Strategy. Part of that package is that DPB recipients will be work tested. A consistent theme throughout the policy is the focus on capacity to work. So, when it comes to single parents on a DPB, if your child is over 6 years the expectation is that you will be available for part-time work. If your child is over 14 years the hope is that parents will be available for full-time work.

We know that 70% of parents are already working and that the vast majority of those not working want to.

The integrated employment service will be aiming to help job seekers with individualised plans. This is a recognition of the differences that exist when it comes to training and career development needs.

We are all only too aware of the difficulties that women still face in the work place. We have made great leaps forward in recent years in terms of women leaders.

In spite of that, I am still astounded when I look at the median income for men and women. The median income for women is $11,280. The median income for men is $19,240. On average, women earn 81% of men's earnings. That is mainly because of the industries women work in. Women are heavily involved in social services, retail and manufacturing work.

Another important Budget announcement which relates to the workplace is the continuation of funding for the EEO Trust. The Trust is a joint business and Government initiative funding programmes that aim to tackle discrimination in the workplace. The Government will now contribute $2 for every $1 contributed by the EEO Trust Members, instead of the current $1:$1 contribution.

Maori women in particular struggle to gain their rightful place in the workforce. Many Maori women find it difficult to access the financial support needed to get a good start in business. Last year KPMG reviewed the Maori Women's Development Fund and said that it does an excellent job in providing help to Maori women who would not be able to access funds from commercial organisations. For this reason, the $450,000 funding will be ongoing. Another example of the Government supporting women to help themselves.

You may also be interested to know that the Ministry of Women's Affairs is currently profiling Maori women achievers through the media to increase the number of Maori women on decision making bodies. One of these women is a local from here - Cathy Tait Jamieson, an organic farmer.

Good for New Zealand business
Just as important as the numerous initiatives I've mentioned, are the ones geared specifically at economic performance.

One such thing that I have been involved in is the further introduction of competition to ACC.

From July next year employers and self-employed people will be able to shop around for their accident insurer.

Legislation will ensure that people receive the same or better benefits as they receive now. And employers will have the opportunity to shop around for the best deal for their company and employees.

Injuries are a huge cost to society and the economy. The introduction of competition will create stronger incentives for injury prevention and rehabilitation. It will mean that premiums more obviously reflect accident records. And our experience with the Accredited Employer Programme shows that a close interest on the part of employers makes a big difference to lowering accident rates.

We are committed to a 24 hour no fault compensation scheme for injured New Zealanders. That doesn't change.

For years business has asked for these changes. Now we have delivered a level of choice that will protect employees too.

Finally, I'm sure that you will all agree that this Budget continues to deliver the promises we set out in the Coalition Agreement.

I'll be one of the first to admit that the Government, and in particular New Zealand First, had a hard time last year. Yet, we have delivered on a lot of our promises. We met some huge challenges face on and have overcome them.

As I said earlier, Budget '98 was a good Budget. It was good for working women, it was good for all women and it was good for business.

Thank you.